Let’s face it, you didn’t wake up one day having gained 50 lbs in your sleep. It takes time to gain weight, just as it takes time to lose it. Understanding what triggers you have, what in your lifestyle led you to put on the pounds will help you in many ways. This understanding can help you prevent those triggers from happening again, as well as give you insight into sub-conscious pressures or hereditary conditions that may have given you a led in the wrong direction of weight. There are many physiological and habitual reasons for gaining weight: eating too much and not exercising enough, having a poor metabolism due to an under-active thyroid, etc. There are several factors in gaining weight and just as many misconceptions. In this article, I will help you clear the picture and give you the basis to understand your metabolism so you can create life-long health. There are 2 main parts to gaining weight: Outside Factors and Active Factors. It’s also important to understand all the factors overlap. For instance, Over Eating is an Active Factor, and yet Metabolism (how your body burns those calories) is an Outside Factor. That’s why it’s so important to understand all aspects of weight gain before you can successfully loose weight.
* Heredity: Many people will look back at their family history and say – I just come from fat stock! Well this is just not true. As a personal trainer, I use myself as an example. Both of my parents have had gastric bypass. Many of my family are obese and suffer the medical complications of the condition: blood pressure, diabetes, cholesterol, etc. But, I’m not overweight. Wouldn’t I too be overweight if my genetics deemed me to be? Yes!
The truth is, your genetics (in this sense) give you a range. Because lifestyle makes such a difference on our weight and health, our genes can go only so far in deeming how we will look. So, for myself, my genes determined I would be 5’8″ tall, that I would have dirty-blonde hair, and hazel eyes. But, for my weight it could only determine a range, that my metabolism would fall between somewhat under weight to somewhat over weight for my height. It really can’t get more specific than that.
Countering the Heredity Factor: Easy peasy! You can’t control your genes. Sorry honey but you’re stuck with them. But wait, they aren’t saying you’ll definitely be ‘x’ pounds. They only say you’ll be more content if you weight between ‘x’ and ‘y’ – so where you fall on that spread is completely up to your living habits. I’m the only skinny person in my family because I watch what I eat and I live an active lifestyle. That’s it – there’s no rocket science to this.
* Metabolism: While Metabolism can be affected by our genetics, it has much more to do with our lifestyles than anything else. If you’re constantly eating high fat foods then your thyroid much be working overtime to counter all the chemical ups and downs associated with digestion. Eventually your thyroid will just start to slow, or get confused on your body’s signals and then you’re in for an uphill battle. Can that battle be overcome? Sure. Your metabolism controls which calories will be stored for later use (fat) and which will go to waste, or be used immediately. If your metabolism is slow (either by a medical condition or lifestyle) then more and more calories will be stored as fat.
For most people, lifestyle slows their metabolism. Living a sedentary lifestyle, which consuming a poor diet, leads the metabolism to slow down. This is because most sedentary people eat only 1 or 2 large meals a day leaving many hours between in taking energy. Rather than go through the metabolic process fast, leaving nothing behind (as that would be used up relatively quickly) the body slows the process way down. Keeping energy available until the next feeding time, then dumping all the extra into fat storage.
Countering The Metabolism Factor: There are 2 ways to counter a poor metabolism: 1) your muscles burn fat in order to move. This is where the importance of having an active lifestyle comes into play. Even if your body wants to store fat, it can’t if you’re constantly burning fat. Sure you might have to work a little harder than the next person, but it’s still possible. 2) Eating a lower caloric diet. Eating a healthy diet means there are less calories coming in to be stored as fat. No matter what you’re body will use energy for survival, even over wanting to have that store of fat available for the future. Therefore you can still achieve a healthy weight even with a slow metabolism. 3) Eat small meals frequently. Set a schedule to eat a small meal every 3-4 hours. This will keep your metabolism (and other organs) working at a constant pace rather than letting things go stagnant. Even someone who has a physical condition that would lead them to have a slow metabolism, like an under-active thyroid, they can still be within healthy weight limits; it’s just a bit more difficult for them than someone with a healthy metabolism. So, no more excuses!
* Family Tradition: So why does it seem as if genes must make a difference? When we look back on a family tree and see predominately over-weight people in it, the reason is simple, lifestyle. We learn to cook, eating habits, how to deal with stresses, etc, all beginning in our childhood. If you’re taught unhealthy habits in childhood, you’re much more likely to carry those over into adulthood. When you have a family, you’ll fall back on recipe’s and traditions learned from watching adults in your family as a child.
For instance, my family would all struggle in the door at about 5pm – from work, school, wherever. Then by 6 pm we’d all sit down to a high caloric ‘meat and potatoes’ dinner. After dinner everyone would lay around the living room watching TV. Then everyone would go to bed, and begin the process the next day. Most in the family would eat nothing for breakfast, then maybe have a high sugar/fat snack in the afternoon, saving their hunger for that dinner meal. When I started my own family, it was much too easy to fall back on this habit. I noticed I’d make a big dinner, that on Sunday’s I would make a special dinner like a pot roast. It was easy to put aside all my nutritional knowledge and fall back on those idyllic family habits. Notice, too, that nowhere in that schedule is exercise. And yet, if one grew up in an active family, who was conscious of healthy eating and living habits, than less people in that family would be obese.
Countering the Family Tradition Factor: This is one of the hardest obstacles to overcome. Why? Well many of us associate certain foods to those happier simpler times of our childhood. You know how just the scent of certain cookies cooking brings back memories of backing with grandma while standing on a chair to reach the counter? Well this is what we my counter. How? The fist step is to be aware of the problem. I can’t tell you how many of my clients are excellent at nutrition at home, but as soon as they go to mom’s house eat horribly. Be conscious that food is nothing but fuel for your muscles. Think back on those favorite meals for you and your family. How can you make it less overwhelming? Smaller Portion Sizes (try using a dessert plate instead of a large dinner one), Drink plenty of water, eat a salad before dinner, etc. I like having a Sunday sit-down dinner with my family. It gives us a sense of closeness that we can’t get any other day of the week with our busy schedules. Now, though, I make a large salad with light dressing as the first course, then follow up with a roasted chicken and brown rice with fresh veggies as a side — still a nice meal, but much more healthy and caloric wise. Furthermore, after dinner at mom’s go for a walk, go to the gym. Encourage the family to go with you – they ate those calories as well. And just because you’re at someone’s house doesn’t mean you need to eat everything on the table. If you’ve eaten on a regular schedule then you won’t be starving anyway. It’s difficult to set a strict exercise and nutrition schedule for you alone when you’re part of a family – things will always get in the way. Sit down and write a list of family rules, a mission statement. Find ways for the family to exercise together!
* Society: Society is also a major factor in the weight of the people. Here in North America, we’re ruled by commercialism. The restaurants with the best commercials get the most customers – not matter how healthy their menu. Furthermore, society can give a person an unhealthy view of just what a healthy person looks like. Magazines and movies filled with super skinny women, can give unrealistic goals. When these goals are unattainable (and usually ruin a metabolism) then women tend to fall back on the comforts of high fat foods. This too increases weight gain. Constant visual and audio input of fast food and unhealthy food choices, mean then when in a hurry we might not even think of what it is we’re eating. We fall victim to the advertising.
Furthermore, in an effort to show how economical it is to eat with them, fast food (and restaurants) have begun ‘super-sizing’ their meals…. “Look how much you can get with us, and for so little, and so fast!!” Since we also don’t wish to waste food, we tend to feel guilty throwing food away, which leads us to eat all of those extra calories.
Counteracting the Society Factor: Recognizing the traps advertising place in front of you is the biggest hurdle. If you know they are trying to get you into their stores, dangling ease of use in front of you, then you can plan ahead. Have easy, healthy snacks available on hand. Don’t be tempted to go to fast food restaurants. If you must go to a restaurant then find healthier items on the menu rather than being tempted by the high calories/fat of most of the items. Furthermore, look at your social life. Do you often get together with friends for a drink at the end of the day? You can still go with them and have a water. Do you go to many parties with unhealthy food choices? Eat before you go so you’re not relying on someone else’s menu to have caloric smart choices for you. Again it’s about being a little bit selfish. Take control of your life – don’t rely on the ever winding road of life to see what it throws in your path.
* Stress:Our final Outside Factor is Stress. How you deal with stress is an important part of weight gain and weight loss. May people are emotional eaters, when the stress gets high, they eat. When they get depressed they eat. Furthermore, studies are showing stress actually has a physiological affect on the body – blood pressure increases, temperatures spike, headaches ensue, etc. These all put your organs and physical processes (which should be working to burn calories) working overtime. This also usually makes one tired — which leads to being much less likely to have the energy (or inclination) to exercise or eat right.
Countering the Stress Factor: Take a look at your life. Write a list of all the stresses in your daily life: family, children, work, money, etc. Then take a look at how you deal with those stresses. Make a plan on how you can affect change without falling back on more unhealthy means. There are probably things that cause you stress that aren’t really necessary to your survival. If you host a party once a month – and it causes you stress then don’t host the party. Will some people be disappointed? Maybe, but take control of your life. Take control of your emotions. There will always be things that happen unexpectedly. But if you plan ahead on how you will handle the unexpected then you will suffer much less stress. Be prepared.
* Calorie Overload: Caloric intake is both necessary and a delicate balancing act. Humans don’t produce their own energy. The only energy we get is through food. Our bodies require food in order for our muscles and organs to work properly. A certain portion of your caloric intake is changed to glycogen – this is the food your muscles eat in order to work at top condition.
Back when humans first evolved, food was scarce. Early humans would gorge on food then not have another meal for some time. Therefore, our bodies figured a way to store some of this energy : Fat. This way, when food was scarce, the body could call upon these energy stores to keep the body moving. But, it doesn’t like to use those stores because the body doesn’t know when the next meal might come…so rather than burning through all those stores, it will slow down all the bodies processes to minimal for survival. This is the same problem many people now suffer. Through developing unhealthy habits — mostly of eating only 1 unhealthy meal a day — their body has decided to store a lot of calories and slow everything else down. (see the Metabolism factor above).
We can’t get out of needing to eat, we still require calories to have energy. But if you eat regularly (a small meal every 3-4 hours) the body will begin to recognize that food isn’t scarce. This will allow the body to access those fat stores when you exercise. Calorie Overload is gorging or over stuffing oneself in one sitting, then not eating again for several hours. This gives the body that conflicting information.
Countering the Caloric Overload Factor:
- Eat a small meal (about 450 calories) every 4 hours.
- Drink plenty of water
- Avoid high caloric/high fat foods like cheeses and pastas, they take a long time to digest and therefore slow the metabolism down.
- Eat plenty of fruits and veggies. They are water based, helping to hydrate the body, but they will also fill you up and prevent you from snacking on unhealthier choices.
- Use your common sense. If it sounds to good to be true, then it is!
Exercise is necessary to keep the body functioning properly. The heart is a muscle, after all, and needs to be worked. Furthermore, sweat helps flush bad chemicals from your system. I have already explained how having a sedentary lifestyle (doing less than 1 hour of concentrated movement a day) will slow your metabolism, but it’s more than that. As I stated briefly before, we burn fat in the muscles. Having the muscles working at top form will burn more calories. If you ignore your muscles they will atrophy. This is why someone can look totally skinny and yet still be unhealthy. You need to work the muscles in order to have the muscles, this is the only way to ensure they will be available to you when you decide to lose weight.
Further Benefits of Exercise:
- Exercise lowers stress!
- Exercise Burns Calories!! In fact, we may burn some calories just through life function (heart beating, metabolism, thinking, etc) but really the only real way to burn fat stores as well as the calories you eat is through exercise. I have a saying with my clients, “First you have to burn through the calories you ate today before you can burn through the calories stored from yesterday!”
- Exercise is also known to increase memory and mental function, improve sleeping habits, improving your immune system, etc.
- You’ll feel good! All those ‘happy hormones’ get released through activity. Plus you will feel as if you’re finally taking control of your own body. These are a great reason to exercise, even without weight gain/loss.
Now that you understand some of the major factors that lead to the extra pounds you carry, you can more effectively make a plan to get rid of them. This is war, a war on poor habits and slow metabolism, but it’s a war you can win if you have the right weapons!